A set of rules is presented for the design of interfaces that allow virtual objects to be manipulated in 3D virtual environments (VEs). The rules differ from other interaction techniques because they focus on the problems of manipulating objects in cluttered spaces rather than open spaces. Two experiments are described that were used to evaluate the effect of different interaction rules on participants' performance when they performed a task known as “the piano mover's problem.” This task involved participants in moving a virtual human through parts of a virtual building while simultaneously manipulating a large virtual object that was held in the virtual human's hands, resembling the simulation of manual materials handling in a VE for ergonomic design. Throughout, participants viewed the VE on a large monitor, using an “over-the-shoulder” perspective. In the most cluttered VEs, the time that participants took to complete the task varied by up to 76% with different combinations of rules, thus indicating the need for flexible forms of interaction in such environments.